Riding the Dragon
Ed Speleers on taking up the reins for Eragon.
Full of fresh-faced charm, Ed Speleers greets Rotten Tomatoes UK with a firm handshake and a wide grin. It’s no wonder he’s so enthusiastic; we meet him on the day of the Eragon international press junket in London’s Dorchester Hotel; his first exposure to the dark and shady world of the interview. Only joking, we’re lovely really.
This is your first big junket experience…
Ed Speleers: The first full-on one, yeah. It’s not too shabby is it? The Dorchester’s better than a youth hostel!
By all accounts your casting was something of a revelation in the life of the project.
ES: When you put it like that it’s a bit bizarre! [laughs] I was sort-of minding my own business at school doing a play and I just heard about this audition. And I’d read the book – I was familiar with the book – so I knew the story. I was told to go to this audition and I met Stefan Fangmeier, the director, and we went through a couple of scenes together after which I was sent away with the script. He asked me back about a week later and then ten days after that my dad called me and told me I had the part.
And a week later I was in Hungary making the movie!
Did you ever consider that you might have been in with a shot during the audition process?
ES: No. I think you’d have to be a pretty arrogant bloke to think you got the part. I don’t like auditions, I get nervous and so I always going away thinking that I’ve ****ed up, basically! [laughs]
How has the part changed your life?
ES: Obviously I’m not at school anymore – that was a pretty big change – but then I wouldn’t be at school even if I hadn’t got it. I don’t think anything really has changed very much. I mean obviously I am doing things I didn’t do before – I seem to constantly be on a plane going places and going into interviews – but at the same time what I do with my life and with my friends is just the same.
As a young actor, it seems like a great opportunity to be put in this environment and learn your craft from guys like Jeremy Irons and Robert Carlyle…
ES: It’s a one-off opportunity and in many ways I guess I went to acting school. When you have Jeremy Irons playing your mentor in the movie it means you’re bound to be working closely with him and I was. He was a father figure for me and he was very good to me. Robert, Sienna, Djimon and Garrett were all very close to me, but with Jeremy I had a very special relationship.
And how was your relationship with Saphira the dragon?
ES: It was bizarre! It’s such an unnatural thing to be behaving and acting with something that doesn’t exist, you know? When you’re talking to a tennis-ball it’s quite off-putting. But then you realise, “Hang on a second, I’m working with this so-called tennis-ball for months and months, I need to learn to appreciate it.” So you do, you go to the really simple place of a nine year-old or whatever and you just let your imagination go crazy.
Did they show you what she was going to look like before you started?
ES: They showed me some concept drawings but when I was imagining her I was more imagining her character than what she would look like. I was more imagining how she would think and feel and I think that’s more important when you’re trying to create emotion on an actor’s face. You need to think about the thinking process.
Were you disappointed you didn’t get a chance to work with John Malkovich?
ES: I was disappointed but, you know, beggars can’t be choosers; I was working with Jeremy Irons and Robert Carlyle, I couldn’t have asked for better!
Is it fun to play the squeaky-clean good guy?
ES: Is he squeaky-clean? I not sure he is. I think you can definitely tell that he’s going to grow into someone who’s a little bit more mysterious. At the end of the day he’s only seventeen; how rough and ready can he really be? In the next few years I think we’re going to see something more come out of him.
The film is obviously the first of three in the Inheritance trilogy; have there been plans for Eldest, the second film, yet?
ES: I think with these kinds of movies – when a studio’s investing so much time and money – you can’t just go in blind. We’ve got to wait and see what happens with the box-office. And at the end of the day I’d like to put some other projects together before we do Eldest too.
Do you find yourself reading Eldest and wondering if you’re going to be doing some of those things eventually?
ES: I certainly hope I will be and you do read it like that, yeah. Actually in Eldest he does develop. He starts to move away from being a boy completely and he does become quite a darkish character.
Did you spend any time with the author, Christopher Paolini?
ES: Not during the filmmaking; we’ve spoken since. I met him in New York and we’ve emailed since. I met him again last night, actually, and we talked about how he felt about the movie.
And what does he feel about the movie?
ES: I think he likes it. It’s got to be so difficult to be an author and see your work translated onto film. He openly said there were things he might have done differently but generally I think he likes the movie and he’s happy with the performances. I think it’s very rare you get an author who’s so behind the project anyway.
It’s not necessarily an easy book to translate, too.
ES: Well yeah. If you look at Lord of the Rings I don’t think you’ll find many book fans who liked it initially. And that was a three-hour movie, the first one. It is hard, but the essence of the book is there. What Christopher’s trying to say and to demonstrate – the reality of it – is definitely there.
Eragon is obviously an effects-driven movie; is it difficult to keep track of what you’re doing while they’re setting up effects shots? Do you stay method in-character while they’re setting up?
ES: Not necessarily and I think it’s very hard to be a method actor anyway, but especially on a film like this. I think it’s important to be in the moment when you’re doing the job but I don’t think going to the extreme lengths of being method would have helped on this. It can be tough to be trying to do a really intense moment for twenty-five seconds and then cut because there’s a problem with the lighting or something so you have to start again. But it’s all a part of the job and something you just have to learn to deal with, really.
What are your plans now?
ES: Well nothing’s concrete but I’d like to do some stage, professional stage. I’d love to do more movies but I don’t think there’s ever a specific role I’d want to play. For someone my age you’ve just got to go out and explore yourself and think about what’s going to be the best option.
Eragon has to be a good opportunity to launch yourself.
ES: Yeah, it’s a launching pad, basically. If the movie does well, great, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but I’m still going to be going out there and trying to find work.
Any particular theatre roles that intrigue you?
ES: I think it’s the same with theatre but I would want to do King Lear. I’d love to play Edmund in King Lear. But in terms of plays it’s the same with the films, I don’t think, at my age, you can know the types of characters and the genres that are going to suit you. Independent movies are great but you’ve got to dive into the big commercial pictures as well. You’ve got to do a bit of comedy. You’ve just got to find your feet and I’m just testing the water at the moment.
Eragon is out now.